Smart messaging has long been critical to political success. Think "contract with America" or "fake news." Often, these messages carry more emotional impact than anything else, tapping into the worldview of those who resonate with them.
Academics construct messaging also, and sometimes those terms make their way into wider usage. One academician who has had greater impact than many is Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the phrase "Critical Race Theory."
You can read about Critical Race Theory all over the place now. Entire Christian denominations are publishing social statements rejecting it. So what is Critical Race Theory?
In a sense, it's quite simple. Critical Race Theory is the application of critical social theory by scholars who want to look critically at our legal systems and race.
More generally, critical theory argues that many problems have their roots more in societal structures and cultural assumptions than individualistic factors.
So Critical Race Theory does in fact assume that social ills like racial injustice can be repaired through a focus on changes in societal structures and cultural assumptions. We need to change our laws -- like zoning laws that result in redlining -- and our cultural assumptions -- like the ones that led one woman to have her house appraised at $100,000 more when she removed signs of her ethnicity and had white friends show it the appraiser.
What Critical Race Theory does is take account of race as it relates specifically to the law, and then asks, "What laws need changing to repair a system constructed, at least in part, on a racially unjust basis?"
It's unfortunate that Christian conservatives who resist conformity to this world can't see that such conformity includes conformity to structural racism. "Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds" (Romans 12:2) is a rather succinct description of critical theory, to be honest.
Furthermore, Christian faith places central to its practice the act of repentance, followed by repair. A central aspect of repentance is recognizing the sin and naming it. All critical theory does is identify and name sin, the sin baked into systems.
Finally, and this is crucial, Christianity itself has resources for the naming of structural evil and sin. Consider Ephesians 6:12: "For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."
I mean, Christians shouldn't ignore that this text is gesturing towards forces even beyond earthly and societal, like actual evil spiritual beings of some sort. But obviously this text is also referring to "rulers" and "authorities," both of whom have the power to enact laws and other forces that create harm, harm far worse in many instances than our smaller, individual sins.
The Rev. Clint Schnekloth is lead pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville. Email him at [email protected]